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The Worshipful  Company Of Clothworkers

 

The Worshipful Company of Clothworkers was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1528, formed by the amalgamation of its two predecessor Companies, the Fullers (incorporated 1480) and the Shearmen (incorporated 1508). It succeeded to the position of the Shearmens' Company and thus ranks twelfth in the order of precedence of Livery Companies of the City of London.

The original craft of the Clothworkers was the finishing of woven woollen cloth: fulling it to mat the fibres and remove the grease, drying it on tenter frames (from which derives the expression ‘to be on tenterhooks’), raising the nap with teasels (Dipsacus) and shearing it to a uniform finish. The Ordinances of The Clothworkers’ Company, first issued in 1532 and signed by Sir Thomas More, sought to regulate clothworking, to maintain standards and to protect approved practices.

From the later Middle Ages, cloth production gradually moved away from London, a situation exacerbated by the Great Fire of London and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. The charitable role of the Clothworkers' Company nevertheless continued, supported by generous gifts of money and property by members and benefactors.

Nowadays, the Company’s main role is in the charitable sphere, through the Clothworkers' Foundation, an independent charity. Through its grants, the Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life, particularly for people and communities that face disadvantage.

Both the Company and the Foundation operate from Clothworkers' Hall, in Dunster Court, between Mincing Lane and Mark Lane in the City of London. The site was conveyed to a group of Shearmen in 1456 and the present building, completed in 1958, is the sixth on the site. Its immediate predecessor, designed by Samuel Angell and opened in 1860, was destroyed in 1941.

The Livery Hall of the Clothworkers' Company in 1859.

Famous Clothworkers included King James I, Samuel Pepys, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, George Peabody, Sydney Waterlow, Edward VII, Lord Kelvin, Viscount Slim, Robert Menzies and the Duke of Kent.

History Timeline

A timeline documenting notable events, dates and individuals in the Company’s history
 

1400

The Fullers and Shearmen emerge as guilds

In the middle ages, guilds emerged in many towns and cities in England in order to regulate particular crafts.  They supervised the training of apprentices and protected consumers and employers by regulating standards of workmanship and prices and preventing unfair competition.  They also looked after their members in times of illness, old age or bereavement.

In the City of London, the guilds came to be known as Livery Companies, for the distinctive clothing their members wore.  The oldest London guild was The Weavers’ Company, which received its Royal Charter in 1155.  Over time, groups of craftsmen involved in the different stages of clothmaking formed and would come to achieve independence from the Weavers.  Two such groups were the Fullers and Shearmen.  Both were operating as separate guilds during the fourteenth century.  As their numbers and influence grew, both would later acquire halls and become companies in their own right.

The Fullers and Shearmen were involved in the final stages of clothmaking, known as finishing.  Finishing cloth traditionally comprised fulling – washing and thickening the cloth in a slurry of water and fuller’s earth or urine; tentering or drying the wet cloth under tension on tenterframes; teaselling the cloth with the fullers’ teasel to raise a nap on the surface; and finally shearing the nap to create a fine even finish.  Allied processes included pressing or calendaring, folding and packing the cloth ready for export or sale.

Drawing of fullers and shearmen finishing cloth

An eighteenth century illustration depicting the fulling, teaselling, shearing and planing of cloth

1456

The Shearmen acquire property in Mincing Lane

On 15 July 1456, premises in Mincing Lane - the future site of Shearmen's Hall, and later Clothworkers' Hall - were conveyed to a group of individually named Shearmen including John Hungerford and William Bette.

The Shearmen were one of the Clothworkers’ two predecessor guilds and had emerged as a distinct group of craftsmen in the fourteenth century, issuing their first set of Ordinances in 1350.  Despite appearing 42nd in a list of City guilds in 1376, the Shearmen had not at this time petitioned for a Royal Charter and were thus unable to hold property as a corporate body.

Shearmen’s Hall was built on the site in 1472.  No visual record of its appearance survives; however, it is possible to piece together a picture of its contents and arrangements from an inventory of items owned by the guild, dated 1528. 

The main Livery Hall was arranged with a dais at one end on which stood a long painted table.  Two further tables ran down either side of the Hall and seating took the form of long benches.  The Hall also contained a hanging and a beam for five candlesticks.  Other rooms included an upper chamber, containing a long trestle table, two benches and a chest; a parlour with a trestle table and a hanging trimmed with red cloth, and a kitchen.

Detail of a 1456 in which premises in Mincing Lane are granted to the Shearmen

Detail of a conveyance of 15 July 1456 of premises in Mincing Lane - the site of the future

1480

The Fullers' Company receives a Royal Charter

The Fullers’ Company was incorporated by King Edward VI on 24 April 1480. 

The Fullers had originated as a group in the Weavers’ Company and are known to have been operating as a distinct guild during the fourteenth century.  In 1376, they were recorded in fifteenth place in a list of City guilds. 

The Charter granted the Fullers the right to found a perpetual guild dedicated to the honour of God and the Virgin Mary, in the form of three wardens and a commonalty of Freemen of the Mystery or Art of Fullers.  They were permitted to use a common seal but no provision was made to appoint a Master.

The Fullers originally met in Candlewick Ward but by the 1480s, they had moved to Langbourn Ward, north of Fenchurch Street.  From 1520-1528 they occupied a property in Billiter Lane, next to the original Hall of the Ironmongers.  This probably served as their Hall until their merger with the Shearmen.


The Charter of The Fullers' Company

1480

The first bequest of property to the Fullers

By his will of 23 November 1480, William Gardiner, Citizen and Fishmonger left all his lands, tenements and rents in Haywharf Lane near Thames Street to The Fullers’ Company. 

Part of the annual rental income was to be channelled towards obits and masses at Austin Friars and the parish church of All Hallows the More and the remainder was for the Company's own use, provided they kept the land in repair.  The property subsequently came into the Clothworkers’ possession when the Fullers and Shearmen merged in 1528.

Gardiner’s bequest included a set of stairs adjacent to the Common Stairs giving access onto the Thames, where Fullers, and subsequently Clothworkers, took their ‘bukkes’ or washing tubs to be cleaned.  The Company’s Court Orders contain numerous references to the upkeep of the stairs and fines levied upon members who lent their keys to the stairs to ‘Strangers not of the Company’.

1508

The Shearmen's Company receives a Royal Charter

A charter incorporating the Shearmen’s Company was granted by Henry VII on 24 January 1508.  It permitted the Shearmen to form a guild or fraternity in honour of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and defined their rights and privileges.  These included the right to hold land in perpetuity, use a common seal and elect out of their own number a Master and two Wardens from year to year. 

Their successful petition for a Charter (they had been refused in 1479) marked the Shearmen’s emergence as a powerful body in the City hierarchy.  In 1515, they were placed twelfth in the Order of Precedence settled by Sir William Boteler, then Lord Mayor of London, much to the annoyance of the Dyers who were placed in thirteenth.  The Clothworkers' would later succeed to their predecessor Company's place in the Precedence.  


The Charter of The Shearmen's Company

1528

The Shearmen and Fullers amalgamate to form The Clothworkers' Company

The Fullers and Shearmen found that they lacked the power of the older and larger Companies and were losing prominent members to those higher in the Precedence, such as Alderman William Bayly who translated to The Drapers’ Company in 1514, becoming Lord Mayor of London in 1524.

The two guilds decided to unite to strengthen themselves against their rivals.  After a successful petition, The Clothworkers’ Company was granted its Royal Charter by King Henry VIII on 18 January 1528.

The new Company was dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Amongst its various provisions, the Charter enabled the Company to elect a Master and four Wardens each year and to hold property, as a corporate entity, in perpetuity.  It also granted the Company powers of oversight, search and correction over anyone working woollen cloths and fustians in the City of London.

Although founded as a craft organisation, The Clothworkers’ Company soon came to have a number of wealthy merchants amongst its membership.  Their interests often differed from those of the artisan craftsmen and in effect a two tier membership operated within the Company - with the merchants found on the Livery and Court and the craftsmen amongst the Yeomanry of the Company.  The Court struggled to maintain a fragile equilibrium between the two groups, and their divergent interests in relation to the export of unfinished cloth would threaten the stability of the Company on several occasions in the future.

Photograph of the Clothworkers' charter, 1528
Charter of The Clothworkers' Company, granted by King Henry VIII

1528

Clothworkers' Hall

The newly formed Clothworkers’ Company took over Shearmen’s Hall in Mincing Lane (built in 1472) and the contents of the nearby Fullers’ Hall were gradually transferred; the Company’s records make reference to ‘conveying the great fire pan from the other Hall’ in 1531 for example. 

An inventory taken of the contents of the Hall in 1528 hints at the new Company’s wealth, beginning with a long list of the silver, jewellery and other ‘stuffe of housholde’ in their possession.  Of these items, only the Common Seal of the Shearmen survives to this day.

The Seal, dated 1509, was adapted for the new Company’s use with the crude addition of the words ‘Cloth Workers’ within the frame.  It bears the Company’s arms and a depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary, its patroness, seated under a gothic canopy.  It was used to seal all official Company documents for the next four hundred years.

 

Photograph of the Company's seal

The Clothworkers' seal, depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Company's patron

1530

The Company acquires its coat of arms

The Clothworkers' arms were granted in 1530 by Thomas Benolt, Clarenceux King of Arms, two years after the foundation of the Company.  They may be described as follows: sable a chevron ermine in chief two havettes argent and in base a teasel cob or (a black shield with an ermine fur chevron between two silver habicks above and a golden teasel head beneath).

The silver habicks and the golden teasel represent the essential tools of the clothworking craft, the finishing of woven woollen cloth.  Habicks were double edged hooks used to attach lengths of cloth to the shearing table.  The dried heads of the fullers’ teasel (dipsacus fullonum) were used to raise the nap of the fabric prior to shearing.

A Grant of Crest and Supporters was received in 1587.

Photograph of the Company's grant of arms, 1530
The Company's Grant of Arms

1532

The Clothworkers' obtain their first set of Ordinances

On 17 January 1532, the Company’s first Ordinances were ratified.  The Ordinances of the Company set out in considerable detail how the Company was to be run on a day to day basis and the rules its members were expected to adhere to.  These covered attendance at Common Hall after the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (to whom the Company was dedicated), the composition of the Court and the election of the Master and Wardens and the election of and clothing for the Livery.  They also included provisions relating to financial support for those members fallen into poverty (provided they had paid quarterage), attendance at funerals, the presentment of accounts and rules respecting new Householders and the admission of Freemen.

The Ordinances were signed by Sir Thomas More, then Lord Chancellor of England.

The Company acquires its first almshouses

Margaret, Countess of Kent the second wife and widow of Richard Gray, 3rd Earl of Kent, died on 5 December 1540.  By Deed dated 14 July 1538, and by her Will dated 2 December 1540, she gave to the Company almshouses for seven poor women and a porter at Whitefriars, together with other property in Queenhithe, Fenchurch Street and elsewhere in the City of London and a sum of £350.

Out of the income of these properties the Company agreed to maintain the almshouses, to pay the porter and to provide £18 annually in support of each of the almswomen.

Having fallen into decay by the eighteenth century, the almshouses were rebuilt, twice, on land belonging to the Company in Islington.  The inhabitants were usually the widows of deceased Freemen.

The Whitefriars almshouses were the first of three almshouses to be administered by the Company.  In 1580, the Company took over responsibility for almshouses at Sutton Valence in Kent, established by William Lambe, Master 1569 and in 1640, John Heath bequeathed £1,500 to the Company to build ten brick almshouses for poor Clothworkers – duly erected on land also in Islington.

1548

The second Clothworkers' Hall is built

In 1548-49 a new Hall was erected by Henry Davyson, bricklayer and John Sampson, carpenter.

The new Hall was approached across a courtyard and entered from a screens passage.  At one end was a dais, with oriel windows on either side.  Some idea of the appearance of this arrangement may be gained from contemporary college halls at Oxford and Cambridge.

Extant plans in the Archive from 1612 show that the Hall and its Parlour stood on undercrofts.  Above part of the Parlour and sharing its oriel was a Ladies' Chamber.  To the west of this lay the Dry Parlour, with its Plate Chamber and Counting House, an Armoury House over the Kitchen and the Pastry.  There was also a Gallery and a further Counting House.

An inventory drawn up in 1555 suggests that, at least initially, many of the furnishings were reused from the former Hall, for many are described as old and some match the descriptions of pieces in the Shearmen's inventory of 1528.

The garden was clearly an important element of the Hall and was newly planted when the Hall was rebuilt.  Lists of plants purchased suggest that it was a herb-garden in the form of a knot, planted to be sweet-smelling, with lavender, rosemary, thyme and hyssop, as well as a vine.

Reconstruction of the exterior appearance of Clothworkers' Hall
Reconstruction of the second Clothworkers' Hall based

 on the Treswell Plan Book and other recods by Peter Jackson

1551

The Company makes its first educational grant

At a meeting on the 28 April 1551, the Court resolved that “where[as] a mocyon was made by my Lord Mayer for the fyndynge of a skoller at the Unyversities, that this house shall yerely paye towards the fyndynge of a skoller five poundes”.

This is the first example of a payment for charitable purposes made by the Company - to a non-Clothworker to fund a scholarship in Divinity - and set in train over four centuries of charitable giving on the Company’s part.

A number of Clothworker benefactors including Barbara Burnell, William Hewett, Edward Pilsworth and John Heath also made provision for the maintenance of Divinity scholars in their wills.

Richard Hakluyt, author of The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589, 1598-1600), was appointed the Company’s scholar at Christ Church Oxford, in 1578. 

1587

Grant of Crest and Supporters to the Company

The Company's crest and supporters were granted in 1587 by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux King of Arms.  They may be described as follows: crest - on a wreath argent and sable a mount vert, thereon a ram statant or; mantling - sable doubled argent; supporters - on either side a griffin or pellety (the shield is surmounted by a helmet topped with a golden ram standing on a green hillock with a base of black and silver and draped with black mantling lined with silver.  It is supported on either side by golden griffins with spots).

The golden ram represents the idea of sheep supplying wool, traditionally considered the ultimate source of the Company’s wealth.  It may also echo the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology and be a mild pun on the word 'ram' and the French word 'rame', meaning a clothworker's tenter frame.  The mantling is in the Company's heraldic colours, black and white (or silver).  The spotted griffins, half eagle and half lion, are associated with the guardianship of treasure and the enactment of good deeds.

The Company's motto, 'My Trust is in God Alone' was adopted at an uncertain, though early, date.  It does not appear on either Grant of Arms.  It is apparently not taken from the Bible, but expresses a common sentiment at the time of adoption (for example the anthem 'O Lord, in Thee is all my trust', ascribed to Thomas Tallis, popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries).

Illustration of the grant of crest and supporters, 1587
Grant of Crest and Supporters

1606

King James I of England and VI of Scotland becomes a Clothworker

Born in 1566, the son of Mary Queen of Scots was crowned King of Scotland the year following the abdication of his mother.  He succeeded to the English throne in 1603.  When King James first came to dine in the City of London, he dined in the home of a Clothworker.  He was invited to join the Company, to which he readily agreed, being admitted with a handshake in June 1607, although the legality of the mode of admission is questionable.  King James was the Company’s first royal freeman and at his admission he reputedly toasted the Company with the following words: ‘God bless all good clothworkers, and God bless all good cloth wearers!’

King James also made a gift of two brace of bucks to the Company each year on the anniversary of the election of the Master and Wardens.  Sadly the practice fell into abeyance although an attempt was made, unsuccessfully, to revive the practice in 1870.

1609

The Company invests in the Ulster Plantation

In January 1609 a comprehensive plan was drawn up for the colonisation of Ulster.  King James intended that loyal planters should settle on lands confiscated from the Irish and thus help bring stability to the province after many decades of resistance to the imposition of English law and English rule.  The City Companies were integral to his plans and a precept was issued in order to solicit financial backing from them.  The Clothworkers’ decided to have no part in the plantation - the request for funds coming so soon after the Virginia Company - however, fines were levied upon individual members, many of whom struggled to meet their instalments.

As the process of gathering funds proved protracted, the Crown instead decided that the Companies should accept a proportionate share of the Ulster lands to ‘to build and plant at [their] pleasure, costs and charges’.  The Clothworkers’ proportion was shared with the Merchant Taylors, Butchers, Bowyers, Fletchers, Brownbakers and Upholders, although the Butchers released their rights in the Estate in favour of the Clothworkers in 1675.

The Clothworkers’ Company was perhaps one of the most reluctant companies to become involved in the Plantation and distanced itself from its development.  From the start the Company’s policy was to grant long headleases of its proportion, which lay on the left side of the River Bann, opposite Coleraine.  

By the nineteenth century conditions on the Estate were poor and when the head lease fell in the Company took direct control and set out making improvements.  The Estate was surveyed by Edward Driver and his recommendations, including land drainage, embankment of the Bann and the development of Waterside implemented.  New roads, churches and houses were built, trees planted, bog lands drained and land enclosed.  A plot of land was also granted for the site of the Coleraine Academical Institution, inaugurated in July 1860, and two hundred guineas granted towards the building.  A Clothworkers’ prize at the School, initiated to be awarded to the best performing student each year, continues to this day. 

In 1871, the Company sold its estate to Sir Hervey H. Bruce M.P.

1623

The Company acquires its own barge

Travelling by river was the most efficient form of transportation to and from the City, Westminster and the north and south banks of the Thames in the days before an efficient road network.  The Company often had to hire a barge, sometimes sharing with The Skinners’ Company, for use when the Lord Mayor travelled to Westminster.  Bedecked in silk banners and streamers, the barge would have carried members of the Livery in addition to trumpeters as it processed along the River.

It appears from references in the Company’s Court Orders that there were not always good sized barges available for hire; those hired could become very crowded and wherries also had to be used to carry the overflow of passengers.  In 1623, William Foster, a Clothworker but a lighterman by trade, offered to build a barge for the Company’s sole use.  The new barge was capable of carrying sixty men and Foster undertook to have the barge, rowers and steersman ready for use at a day’s notice.

The new barge was moored at a bargehouse in Vauxhall and quarters provided there for the Company’s bargemaster.  The bargemaster was required to wear a livery (coat and breeches) of scarlet cloth and a gold laced hat and in 1787 a silver gilt badge was struck for him by Henry Green. 

Despite the stately pace of the river passage, the Company’s fine gilt mace by Samuel Courtauld was accidentally dropped into the Thames during the Mayoral procession in 1803.  Account books in the Archive reveal that the princely sum of £2 3s was paid to the unfortunate who waded into the filthy waters to, successfully, retrieve it.

Photograph of the Barge-Master's badge
The Barge-Master's badge by Henry Green

1643

Financial troubles and the Civil War

The Livery Companies were often viewed as a source of ready cash by the monarchy and during the political troubles of the seventeenth century they received many demands for money; in 1640 and 1641 alone these requests exceeded £10,000.  Unable to meet the King’s precepts, the Company was forced to borrow from individual members.  When Civil War erupted in 1642, further demands arrived, now from Parliament and the City.  By September 1643 the Court decided:

‘Taking into their sad and serious considerations the many great pressing and urgent occasions which they have for money as well as for the payment of their debts as otherwise and considering the danger this City is in by reason of the great distractions and Civil Wars of this Kingdom have thought fit and ordered that the stock of Plate which the Company hath shall be sold at the best rate that will be given for the same.’

Approximately two-thirds of the Company’s collection was sold, to raise a total of £520 1s 8d.  Of those pieces saved, only the rosewater dishes given by John Burnell and John Jackson survive to this day.

During the Civil War, the Clothworkers sided with Parliament, as did the City – indeed, the Master of the Company in 1652-1653 was Alderman Sir John Ireton whose brother, Henry Ireton, had signed King Charles’ death warrant – however, the Company was quick to shift allegiances when required.  At the restoration of Charles II in 1660, they went to great effort to welcome the King into the City with suitable splendour.  The Company’s trumpeter was lent to the Guildhall; six handsome, tall and able men were lent to serve the meat; £165 was given towards the cost of the banquet and members lined the streets in their finest attire with cloths, banners, streamers and ornaments resplendent around them.

1666

The Great Fire of London destroys the third Clothworkers' Hall

The Great Fire of London broke out in Pudding Lane on the night of 1-2 September 1666.  It very soon reached the Steelyard, causing chaos at Clothworkers’ stairs at the bottom of Haywharf Lane as residents threw themselves and their belongings into the Thames to escape the flames.  The fire also spread eastwards, reaching Clothworkers’ Hall, of which Pepys remarked ‘But strange it was to see Cloathworkers-hall on fire these three days and nights in one body of Flame’. 

The building was not instantly consumed, on account of its brick construction, and the fourth Hall seems to have been in part a re-facing of the third’s fire-damaged walls.  During the fire the Company’s Archive was evacuated to Drury Lane and the damaged Hall was guarded by watchmen and two and later three dogs to keep the site secure – there being a proliferation of lead thieves in the City.  In the fire’s wake, the Company held its meetings at Lambe’s Chapel in Monkwell Street before Dennis Gawden, Master 1667 offered to rebuild the Hall at his own cost – to be repaid by the Company later, when it was in a better position to do so.

By 1668 the new Hall was complete and was described by Maitland as
"a noble rich building.  The Hall is... a lofty Room, adorned with wainscot to the Ceiling where is curious Fret-work.  The Screen at the South End is of Oak adorned with four Pilasters, their Entablature and Compass Pediment is of the Corinthian Order enriched with their Arms and Palm Branches.  The West end is adorned with the Figures of King James I and King Charles I, richly carved as big as the Life in their Robes with Regalia, all gilt with Gold, where is a Spacious Window of Stained Glass."

1677

Samuel Pepys is elected Master of the Company

On 7 August 1677 the Honourable Samuel Pepys Esquire was chosen Master of the Clothworkers’ Company.

Pepys was a well connected and very senior naval civil servant, but he was not a Freemen or indeed Liveryman of the Company.  It is believed that the Company took the extraordinary decision to welcome him into the Master’s chair in order to cultivate friendships at Court, so soon after the Civil Wars when the Company and City had sided with the Parliamentarian forces.

Pepys was in effect a token Master, only making five appearances at Court during his year of office.  In spite of this, he is considered our most famous past Master on account of his diaries (which sadly terminate before his year of office) and for his munificent gift of three pieces of plate to the Company, which are considered our finest treasures.  They comprise a rosewater dish, ewer and a silver-gilt pierced and engraved loving cup, the latter considered by Pevsner to be ‘perhaps the most magnificent cup in the City.’

1860

The fifth Clothworkers' Hall opens for business

In 1855, Samuel Angell, the Company's surveyor, wrote a report on the state of Clothworkers' Hall.  Nearly two hundred years old, the structure was deemed to be unsound and incommodious and it was recommended that the whole be pulled down and rebuilt.

The Hall was demolished in 1856 and a new building erected according to Angell's designs.  Like many contemporary buildings in the City, it was Italian Renaissance in style.  The Times dubbed it 'one of the finest of which the City can boast'. 

The main entrance remained on Mincing Lane, behind an imposing facade and the Livery Hall was on the first floor, still oriented North - South.  However, the building now took up most of the site and formed a single, though picturesque, block rather than being arranged around internal courtyards. 

The wealth of the Company was reflected in the sumptuous interiors, with ornate polychromed and gilded plasterwork and lavish use of polished granite and marble.  The new Hall was opened by His Royal Highness Prince Albert, The Prince Consort, who was presented with the Honorary Livery of the Company on the same day.

1880

The Royal Commission on Livery Companies

In the nineteenth century the City Livery Companies were exposed to public scrutiny on a number of occasions as people increasingly questioned their role, privileges and wealth.  In 1880, Gladstone’s government appointed a Royal Commission to undertake a complete appraisal of their constitutions, powers, modes of membership, entitlements, income (corporate and trust), estates and overall management.
 
The Clothworkers’ Company acquitted itself well under enquiry although criticism was levelled against the vague nature of the Thwaytes’ Trust - ‘£20,000 to be laid out in the way that may tend to make the said Society comfortable’.   The Commissioners noted that the Company spent a high proportion of its corporate income (in 1880, £20,000 of a total of c£34,000) on voluntary charity, and did not claim the 5% of income available for administration of their trusts.  The Company was also cited for its work in promoting the establishment of the Yorkshire College of Science at Leeds and similar institutions in Bradford and Huddersfield for example.
    
The Commission concluded that the Livery Companies’ legal rights to hold corporate property not subject to any trusts were questionable, as was their ability to draw profit from the income and sale of these.  It added that the Companies could therefore be disendowed or disestablished by the State, although they did not advise this. 

Despite a number of recommendations, no practical action was taken by the Government, perhaps because the Commissioners disagreed over the nature of the reforms proposed.  Commissioners Richard Assheton Cross (a Clothworker) and two others declined to sign the main Report (1884) and instead submitted a Dissent Report to Parliament condemning the proposed reforms which would see Companies ‘cease to be nurseries of charities and seminaries of good citizens’.

Despite the lack of consequent action on Government’s part, the Commission is believed to have galvanized many Companies into adopting more proactive initiatives, renewing contact with their former trades and lending important support in the field of technical education.

1928

The Company celebrates its four hundred year anniversary

In 1928, the Company celebrated the four hundred year anniversary of the granting of its first charter by King Henry VIII.  To mark the occasion, Sir William Edgar Horne, Master 1916-1917 presented the Company with a magnificent standing cup and cover by Omar Ramsden, the noted Arts and Crafts goldsmith.  The cup is art-nouveau in style and is the Company’s only solid gold piece. 

A celebratory dinner was also held on the occasion, 18 January 1928.  Guests dined on a sumptuous feast of Whitstable oysters, poached fillet of sole d’Antin, sweetbreads à la princesse, saddle of welsh lamb, roast pheasant with chips and salad, iced soufflé and herring’s roe with paprika.  Sidney Horne (a relative of Sir William) wrote in his menu card - retained in the Company’s Archive - that the champagne drunk that evening was one of the finest ever served. 

Members of the Company were also presented with replicas of the Company’s historic seventeenth-century Chetwynd cups as an anniversary gift.

1941

Clothworkers' Hall is destroyed

Clothworkers’ Hall was destroyed in a night of bombing and subsequent fires on 10-11 May 1941.  The Hall had already been hit in October 1940 but had escaped serious damage.  The sustained bombardment known as the Blitz, between September 1940 and May 1941, caused huge damage to the City and East End, and to other parts of Britain.  Many other Livery Halls were similarly destroyed as were several of the Company’s properties.

Fortunately no-one was killed or seriously injured at Clothworkers’ Hall, although almost all the furniture and interiors were destroyed with the exception of a coat of arms, a small clock and four carved murals depicting the attributes of the Company – Loyalty, Integrity, Industry and Charity.  The basement vaults – and consequently the archives and some paintings –withstood the flames, although no-one dared open the strongroom doors until five days after the fires were extinguished.  The Company’s plate also survived – many pieces were on loan in the US at the time and the remainder had earlier been evacuated. 

As the clear-up operation began, the Company took up business residence first at Christ’s Hospital, then at Great Tower Street, and later 48 Fenchurch Street (a Company property) and Company meetings and functions were held at Vintners’ Hall although the Grocers, Fishmongers, Ironmongers and Drapers all lent their Halls on occasion.  It was to be seventeen years before the Company could return to (a newly built) Clothworkers’ Hall.

1956

The sixth Clothworkers' Hall is built

Plans to rebuild Clothworkers’ Hall were considered immediately after the War; however, it was many years until building began, supervised first by Henry Tanner and later Herbert Austen Hall. 

Hall’s designs for the new Clothworkers’ Hall took their inspiration from classical architecture; the marble-columned Entrance Hall is said to have been based upon one of the great temples of Persepolis for example.  Due to financial exigency his plans had to be repeatedly modified and a number of grander embellishments to the interiors were sacrificed.  

What emerged was a new Hall ‘lightly clad in Georgian dress’ and in style typical of much post war construction in the City.  In a break with the past the new Hall was approached through Dunster Court for the first time.  However, elements of continuity were evident in the design, in recognition of the Clothworkers’ centuries-long association with the site; the entrance gates of the Victorian Hall were re-used and the Reception Room ceiling was modelled on the imposing barrel vaulted plaster ceiling of its predecessor. 

The Foundation stone was laid on 17 July 1956 by H.R.H. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent – five hundred years since the Shearmen had first acquired the site – and was officially opened for business by H.R.H. Princess Mary, the Princess Royal on 28 April 1958. 

1960

The Company rationalises its property holdings

After the Second World War, the Company rationalised its property portfolio, selling off its suburban estates and purchasing plots in the City to form larger blocks ripe for later redevelopment, favoured by the City Corporation. 

The Company’s properties in Throgmorton Street and Copthall Alley, bequeathed by Thomas Ormeston in 1557, were supplemented with the acquisition of adjacent properties to form the Angel Court Estate. 

An ambitious development scheme was embarked upon in the 1970s and 1 Angel Court is now the Company’s largest office block in the City of London.  The sale of the leasehold interest in this property enabled the Company to create an endowment for The Clothworkers’ Foundation through which our long tradition of charitable giving continues today. 

1977

The Clothworkers' Foundation is established

In 1977, The Clothworkers’ Foundation was established as the independent charitable arm of The Clothworkers’ Company.  The Foundation began making grants to charitable organisations in 1978 and has progressively assumed responsibility for the charitable work previously undertaken by the Company.

The Clothworkers’ Foundation is now amongst the largest grant-making bodies in Britain, and has since its establishment given away a total of £82m to charitable causes.  The Foundation aims to improve the lives of people and communities, particularly those that face disadvantage. 

In order to ensure that links with our textile roots are maintained, the Foundation also funds textiles projects of national importance, such as our recent anchor donation towards the creation of The Clothworkers’ Centre for Textiles and Fashion Study and Conservation at the Victoria and Albert Museum, to open in 2013.

1985

Clothworkers' Hall is refurbished

When the sixth Clothworkers’ Hall was built many of the intended embellishments had to be sacrificed due to financial constraints in the post war era and at first the rooms were rather stark and bare, although enlivened by gifts and antiques donated by members.

In 1985-1986, the interiors were refurbished by Donald Insall and Associates, in styles evoking the history of English Classicism from the period of Wren to the present, using materials and techniques intended to represent the best of British craftsmanship.  Many of our heraldic motifs were also incorporated into the new furnishings in order to make the Hall more personal to the Company, as its meeting place of several hundred years. 

In 1987 we received a City Heritage Award for the refurbishment of the Hall.

1994

The Company elects its first Liverywomen

As a result of the changes instituted by the new Ordinances in 1984, the Company elected its first Liverywoman, Vanessa Woodbine Parish, in June 1994.  She was swiftly followed by thirteen others.  A group portrait of the first fourteen Liverywomen was commissioned from June Mendoza to commemorate this historic occasion.

We now have a female on the Court of Assistants and expect in the fullness of time to have our first lady Master.

Portrait of the Company's first fourteen liverywomen

Portrait of the first fourteen Liverywomen by June Mendoza

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